Sunscreen stains

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Sun protection is essential, but some sunscreen products leave unsightly yellow stains on clothes that don't come out in the wash. This shouldn’t put you off from using sun cream though as it's important to use SPF everyday

In this article, find out why some products can stain clothing and how to get sunscreen out of your clothes.

Why do some sunscreens stain clothes?

UV filters are slightly yellowish in colour

Sunscreens can stain for a number of reasons, but the main two are because of the oil and UV filters in the sunscreen formula.


To give our skin the protection it needs in the sun, sunscreens contain UV filters. One of the most common is avobenzone, also known as butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane. These filters are normally organic chemical filters which, by the nature of the job they have to do of absorbing UV rays, have a slight yellowish colour. It is this colour which leads to the initial yellow sunscreen stains.

Furthermore, avobenzone has a tendency to oxidise which can make a yellow-orange stain get darker over time and more difficult to remove.

Light-coloured clothing, and clothing made from natural fibres like cotton, are most vulnerable to sunscreen stains. Darker-coloured fabrics are least likely to become noticeably stained.


Some sun products cause stains if they're oil-based. This results in a stubborn mark that reacts with sun and water, and you might not notice it until you get home.

If you are looking for a lightweight, non-greasy sunscreen, we recommend Eucerin Sun Face Hydro Protect SPF50. It provides UVA, UVB and HEVIS light protection for all skin types, even sensitive skin, while its light formula is quickly absorbed into the skin and leaves no greasy residue. 

How to prevent sunscreen stains on clothes

As we understand more about the impact of the sun on our skin, we are, sensibly, moving towards using higher sun protection factors than in the past. Learn more about what SPF means here.

The higher the SPF we use, the more filters a product contains and so, generally, the stronger the stain.

This means that sunscreen stains are becoming more noticeable, and more of a problem. However, there are ways to prevent sunscreen from staining our clothes:

  1. Rub your sunscreen into your skin until the product is fully absorbed to avoid it sitting on the surface of the skin and coming into contact with your clothing.
  2. Opt for water based sunscreens that won't leave grease marks on your clothes.

Does sunscreen come out of clothes?

It depends on the SPF and the size of the stain, but generally speaking the answer is yes, with proper care, most sunscreen stains can be removed.

How to get sunscreen out of clothes

If you've noticed a greasy stain on your favourite summer outfit, don't panic. Try these methods to remove a yellow sunscreen stain:

  • Do a pre-treatment before washing. Rub a specific laundry detergent designed for stains into the mark and leave for 10 minutes before rinsing and washing.
  • After washing, hang your white clothing out in the sun to dry. The sun naturally bleaches stained white clothing in a safe way. For stubborn stains, use lemon juice to intensify the bleaching results.
  • Soak the stain in white vinegar. Follow this by washing on a hot temperature.
  • Use eucalyptus oil. Cover the stain and leave for five minutes before washing as normal.

If your sunscreen stain is on a delicate or fancy fabric, such as silk or linen, then take it to the dry cleaners.

What factors intensify sunscreen stains?

The initial sunscreen stain is only part of the story. The way we then go about trying to remove these stains can actually intensify them rather than lighten or remove them:

Powder detergents, bleaching agents, hot and hard water can all intensify sunscreen stains

  • The water we wash our clothes in contains metal ions such as iron and copper. These react with the filter stains on our clothes and can intensify those stains. There are more of these metal ions in hard water and so those washing clothes in hard water areas are more likely to experience sunscreen stains.
  • Hot water can actually seal in the yellow stains rather than remove them: the 40°C (104°F) setting recommended by most washing machine and laundry detergent manufacturers is hot enough to intensify sunscreen stains.
  • Powder detergents and bleaching agents can also react with the filters and increase rather than decrease the sunscreen stains.

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